By Daniela Appel
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the community is faced with a food scarcity crisis of abysmal proportions due to the continued challenges posed by COVID-19. With the goal of making more possible for families in the community in mind, Jewish Family Service set out to provide Thanksgiving dinner items for local families who otherwise may not be able to celebrate the holiday.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, JFS has increased the number of families it serves each week from 180 to about 750. Each Thursday, the agency holds a 3-hour, drive-thru distribution where 50,000-60,000 pounds of fresh produce and shelf stable goods are distributed to clients. For the Thanksgiving distribution Nov. 19, each family received a turkey, large bag of produce, and a box of shelf-stable goods including Thanksgiving fixings such as stuffing mix, pumpkin puree and cranberry sauce in order to celebrate the holiday. JFS distributed over 100,000 pounds of food on Thursday, reports Marilynn Wohlstadter, Food Sourcing coordinator.
Many in the community rallied together to help JFS in this endeavor. Kristen Jackson, director of Volunteer Engagement at JFS, recognizes the role community plays in making more possible for those in need. “We couldn’t do this without volunteers and community partners,” Jackson said.
She added, “Throughout November, we [with the help of our volunteers] have been able to assemble 900 boxes of shelf-stable Thanksgiving boxes.” Socially distanced volunteers wearing PPE from groups such as Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Division, the Dal-Rich chapter of Young Men’s Service League, staff from Merit Hospice and individual volunteers from the community “were a huge part of making this happen and filled the majority of the shifts [to pack bags],” notes Jackson. Students from Akiba Academy contributed kosher Thanksgiving bags with hand-drawn turkey pictures and well wishes for the holiday.
During the duration of the pandemic, many volunteers have found a sense of purpose in doing good for their community at JFS. “[Volunteers are] all here to do good in their community. It’s a mutually beneficial thing because not only are volunteers helping clients by making distributions possible, but at a time with so much isolation, they come to JFS to gain that sense of purpose,” said Jackson. Most weeks, JFS needs 30 volunteers for their distributions. However, for this event, they had 50 sign up in order not to cause clients to wait hours to receive food. Volunteers were very eager to help and adhere to COVID-19 precautions in order to balance service with keeping everyone safe.
Especially instrumental in making the Thanksgiving Distribution a success was the Young Adult Division of Jewish Federation. “YAD is the future of the Jewish Federation,” said Simone Shrell, service chair of YAD. “We try to motivate and inspire young adults to support [Federation] and give back to the community they grew up in or that they’re new to. Federation helps so many organizations in the community.” YAD was present throughout the entire process of preparing for the Thanksgiving distributions, organizing shifts of volunteers four at a time to ensure proper social distancing, to prepare the Thanksgiving boxes and subsequently put the boxes in cars on Thursday. Shrell noted that the experience was impactful for her and the rest of the Young Adult Division. “This was a good opportunity to give back and learn how many families are in need right now,” she said. “Seeing all the behind-the-scenes work [put in by JFS] to help people in this time was very eye-opening. [JFS] supports lots of people in the community from all walks of life, not just those who are Jewish,” Shrell reported.
JFS’ community partners were equally instrumental in providing the food distributed to clients. JFS received turkeys and shelf-stable goods as a partner agency of the North Texas Food Bank. In addition, partnerships with local grocery stores such as Aldi, Kroger, Walmart, Target, and Tom Thumb have been crucial in supplying food to be distributed. Community partnerships with places such as Tom Thumb Preston and Forest regularly support JFS and their programming. “Tom Thumb [Preston and Forest] Manager Gregg Becker helps make [receiving supplies] possible and is a great advocate. It’s no surprise they helped us make this happen [through] allowing us to purchase turkeys at a discounted price and store them there until the morning of the distribution,” said Wohlstadter.